A small train born from big dreams

·4 min read
Malcolm McKay sits on his locomotive. He plans to paint the engine like an ambulance to honour his mother June, who worked as a paramedic.  (Lane Harrison/CBC News - image credit)
Malcolm McKay sits on his locomotive. He plans to paint the engine like an ambulance to honour his mother June, who worked as a paramedic. (Lane Harrison/CBC News - image credit)

Malcolm McKay has always dreamed of being a train conductor. Now, after finishing the construction of his Breezecrest Iron Horse Railway, he finally is.

McKay, a former concrete truck driver, applied to be a train conductor a few times with no luck.

"So, the next best thing is to build my own."

After years of work and some supply chain delays, he opened the one-eighth-scale railway on his family's farm outside Hampton this summer.

Pulled by a battery-powered engine, the train and its wooden benches can carry up to 20 people around Breezecrest, the name given to the farm by McKay's grandfather for the ever-present gusts that interrupt the summer heat.

Rides are $5 and have been bringing smiles to the faces of local children, which was part of McKay's ambition.

"Myself and my wife, we can't have kids," McKay said. "So this was the next best thing, so that I can make other kids be able to be happy."

WATCH | Take a ride on a model train:

Years in the making 

The 41-year-old McKay first got the idea to undertake a project like this when he was in middle school.

He said hobbies have always been an important part of his life, but he really got back into them nine-years ago, thanks to his wife.

When they met, she mentioned she loves trains.

"I just turned around, looked at her: 'Marry me,'" McKay said.

She's been helping him get the word out about the railway on social media.

His infatuation with trains goes back so far he can't remember when it started. From steam engines to diesel locomotives, he's always admired the machines.

"I think it's fascinating, just the sheer horsepower of these locomotives," he said.

But he also has a great respect for the history of the vehicle and its importance in Canadian history.

"To me, what we have here today is because of the railroads."

In 2014, he started teaching himself how to build his own railway by watching YouTube videos and joining Facebook groups.

He said because he was his own architect, engineer and construction crew, a lot of his time was spent on research and planning.

"A lot of this I've actually turned round from the measurements of the real thing," he said. "Turned it round and scaled it down to what they call one-eighth-scale."

Lane Harrison/CBC News
Lane Harrison/CBC News

He said working on his railway is when he feels relaxed.

He purchased the engine car, which was delayed by pandemic-induced supply chain issues, but he built the 190 foot long track and the passenger cars himself. He estimates the railway has cost him around $30,000.

"To be honest, a lot of pop bottles have paid for this," he said. He would also drive around collecting scrap metals to recycle for cash. Eventually, people would call him to collect recycling they wanted to get rid of.

While it may take some time to recoup his investment on $5 rides, he said the enjoyment of the project makes it worth it.

"I'm just sitting here, basically playing – as an adult – playing with trains," he said. "And really, how many of us growing up have always wanted to play with trains and stuff like that?"

Junebug

On McKay's birthday in 2020, his mother June retired from a decades-long career as a paramedic in Hampton.

Then, she was diagnosed with cancer and passed away at 65.

To honour her memory, McKay calls his locomotive Junebug, his mother's nickname.

He plans to paint it white with a heartbeat and star of life – the blue symbol used to identify emergency medical vehicles.

And where a train would usually bear identifying digits, he plans to paint her service number.

Lane Harrison/CBC News
Lane Harrison/CBC News

McKay's not done dreaming

McKay is also working on building more cars to add to the railway.

But he has bigger aspirations for the future of his ride.

At the moment, the track is not permanently installed on his farm, which allows him to take it to events like a birthday party.

"But I'd like to have a permanent spot that I can actually have a full on layout."

He said people should look up Train Mountain -- a miniature railway in Oregon -- to glimpse the future he's envisioned for himself.

In the 2004 Guinness Book of World Records, it was crowned the world's longest miniature hobby railroad.

Beyond expanding his railway, he also hopes to show people the world he loves so much.

"To turn around and bring more people into the model railroading community, that is what I'd like to do."